Quirky subject

Quirky subjects (also called "oblique subjects") are a linguistic phenomenon whereby certain verbs specify that their subjects are to be in a case other than the nominative.

For example the English sentence "*Me like him" is (mostly, depending on the dialect) ungrammatical because the subject is ordinarily in the nominative. In many or most modern nominative-accusative languages this rule is inflexible, the subject is indeed in the nominative case, and almost all treat the subjects of all verbs the same. (Ergative languages are another story.) As an exception to this rule, Icelandic, which has been argued (but by no means proven, see German) to be the only language with quirky subjects, is of considerable interest to linguistics.

The quirky subject is also evident in German. As an example: "Mir ist kalt" would translate into English as "I'm cold" (although it would still be grammatically correct to insert es, for instance "*Es ist mir kalt").

Old Swedish was another example of the quirky subject. Swedish-language verbs forced subjects to agree in person around the 15th century, the advent of modern Swedish. Agreement in number remained in written Swedish as late as the 20th century, though, even though all subject-verb agreement had disappeared in speech by the 17th century.


Further reading

  • Fanselow, Gisbert (2002). More Than Words: A Festschrift for Dieter Wunderlich. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

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